AFP

HEXIGTEN

Buzzing like an oversized electric razor, hairdresser Wang Qiang’s home-made airplane skids over grassland before soaring into a vast blue sky, in a rare flight allowed by Chinese authorities.

Wang spends his days trimming and shaping at a hair salon in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, and his evenings working on the rickety one-seater craft.

He is one of a tiny - estimates say their numbers stand at around 2,000 - but growing number of Chinese private aircraft owners who are grouping together to challenge restrictions which ban them from almost all the country’s airspace.

Wang’s machine - with a stainless steel frame, wheels from a motorised wheelchair, and a seat scavenged from a go-kart - took eight months to build and cost 30,000 yuan ($5,000).

It can reach altitudes of 3,500 metres and speeds of 90 kilometres an hour (56 mph), he says.

“In the countryside people play mahjong after finishing work... but I like to fly,” said Wang, 37, who grew up spreading manure and picking corn on a farm.

“We want the government... to give us more room to enjoy the skies, and enjoy flying,” he said. “If ordinary people, even vegetable-cutting housewives can fly, that would be best.”

Around 20 private planes, microlights and motorised paragliders took to the air in a valley in Hexigten Banner, in China’s remote Inner Mongolia region at the weekend, in the country’s first festival of its kind after organisers obtained special permission from the authorities.

The gathering was inspired by the “fly-ins” of the US, which can see thousands of aviators converge on a single location — but the private flying restrictions meant enthusiasts had to reach the festival overland. Plans for an earlier gathering in Beijing in 2011 were cancelled by officials citing safety concerns.

“We are very far behind the US,” said organiser Zhang Feng, of China’s Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “We want to use this event to promote the opening up of China’s airspace.”

Ding Lin, a retired Chinese air force pilot who owns a two-seater plane made in France, added: “We are trying to push towards freedom of flight.

“In 10 years you will come back and the whole sky will be full of planes,” he said, before wiping down his plane’s shining red propeller.